Brand distinctiveness before differentiation

Written by Carl West

Distinctive brand assets

Too many business owners and marketers are pre-occupied with finding, or fudging, points of difference for their product or service, instead of first considering how to utilise distinctive brand assets as a more effective way of keeping front of mind and achieving category salience.

In the 1940s, Coca-Cola captured the essence of a ‘distinctive brand asset’ when they wrote a simple, yet incredibly powerful brief, for glass manufacturers to redesign their bottle. The brief read “Design a bottle so distinct that you would recognise it by feeling it in the dark or seeing it lying broken on the ground.” This brief was the catalyst for the iconic bottle shape we associate with the brand today.

Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s Associate Director, Jenni Romaniuk, has led the way on the importance and effectiveness of distinctive assets, which can only be achieved when brands create unique and unmistakable identities which ensure they are easily recognisable and more memorable. Distinctive assets act as triggers in the minds of category buyers, helping them recall the brand in buying situations e.g., patterns, shapes, colours, slogans, celebrities, characters, jingles and more - think McDonald’s golden arches, Ferrari’s prancing horse, Cadbury purple or Nespresso’s alignment with George Clooney.

Differentiation on the other hand, is grounded in how a brand is experienced and the associations the brand is trying to create in the minds of the customers which position it as a unique or superior product or service, in relation to the market in general, and the competitors’ offerings.

This is not a case of either or, it’s to utilise both, but in the right order. Distinctiveness is system 1 thinking: fast, unconscious, automatic, emotional, and every day. Differentiation is system 2 thinking: slow, conscious, deliberate, rational, complex decisions.

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